A fraudster who is having €40 a week deducted from her widow’s pension to refund €21,000 in rent allowances she got through false pretences has received a two-year suspended sentence.
Margaret Carroll (nee Whelan) 46, of Llewellyn Grove, Rathfarnham was also previously convicted for a Ir£230,000 fraud in which she ripped off four businessmen in a purported clothing deal and was ordered in May 2003 to carry out 240 hours community service for that crime.
She pleaded guilty last year at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to 26 charges of falsely claiming supplementary rent allowance between June and September 2002 and on February 2, 2005, and was given the choice of two years jail or of refunding the Department of Social and Family Affairs.
Judge Michael White noted that Whelan had continued to refund the Department by direct debit deductions of €40 a week from her window’s pension and ordered that this should continue until it was fully reimbursed.
Garda James Mulligan told prosecuting counsel, Mr Noel P Devitt BL, that Whelan defrauded the rent allowance by giving a Community Welfare Officer a name and address of a non-existent landlord, claiming she was renting her accommodation at Llewellyn Grove.
The house was owned by her former husband who had since died and left the property to their young son. The property was put in the hands of trustees who allowed Whelan to live there rent free.
Garda Mulligan said she had received a total of 26 payments when gardaí were alerted by the Community Welfare Officer that she was suspicious that Whelan had been fraudulent.
A search was carried out on Whelan’s home on September 21, 2002, where receipts for the payments she received and documents bearing her signature were seized. These signatures were then compared to the application forms filled out by her for the Community Welfare Officer.
Garda Mulligan accepted the suggestion by defence counsel, Mr Giollaiosa O Lideadha BL, that Whelan was now "on the straight and narrow" and had turned her back on her previous behaviour.
Judge White described the rent fraud as very serious and her previous crime in 2003 as "nasty". He said Whelan was not "an unfortunate woman who had found herself in financial difficulties", but rather she had consciously planned to defraud the system in this way.
Whelan pleaded guilty in the 2003 case to falsely obtaining cheques and cash worth some Ir£230,000 on dates between September and December 1999 by pretending to be a supplier of 'Guinness' goods.
Judge Joseph Matthews said the offences were very grave because of her duplicity in ripping off four businessmen for Ir£230,000 with the financial consequences for them, but that there was "nothing to be gained by society by her serving time". He directed her to carry out 240 hours community service.
Detective Garda Liam Fahy told prosecuting counsel in that case, Ms Tara Burns BL, that Mr Michael O’Callaghan, who had a financial services business, was contacted by Whelan in reply to advertisements he placed in newspapers and went to her home to discuss a mortgage.
Whelan told him she worked supplying sports clothing to schools and had an opportunity to obtain a contract with Guinness for clothing for an upcoming hurling final.
She said there was stock at Dublin Port which was meant to be supplied by a company which had gone bankrupt. She said she would be able to take the place of this company and transfer the goods from the port to the Guinness Brewery if she was able to get some money together quickly.
Mr O’Callaghan thought it sounded like a good business deal so he agreed to get involved. They had some meetings, during which she would receive phone calls and say they were from suppliers pressuring her for money.
Det garda Fahy said Whelan told Mr O’Callaghan she had money in Barclays Bank but was having difficulties with bank drafts.
Mr O’Callaghan agreed to write out some cheques for her on the basis that she would later put £70,000 into his account. He wrote out five cheques to specific people but did not want them cashed until he received the money.
Det garda Fahy said that when Mr O’Callaghan contacted his bank he discovered two cheques for a total of £19,000 had been cashed.
Whelan met him again and said a Mr Albert Lestrange who was one of the people a cheque was addressed to, was a supplier who was threatening to sell the goods if he was not paid. Whelan said he was looking for £83,000.
Mr O’Callaghan did not have enough money in his account but he asked his brother, Shane, who organised a bank draft for Mr Lestrange.
Whelan also told Mr O’Callaghan a similar story about a Ms Deirdre Jennings who was looking for £24,000. Once again, Mr Shane O’Callaghan wrote out a personal cheque.
Ms Burns noted that the O’Callaghans were at a loss to a total of Ir£102,000 at the hearing date.
Det Garda Fahy said Mr Anthony Johnson had known Whelan for some time. She approached him in a café in Dundrum and told him about the clothing deal and that her contact in Guinness was a "Mr Gerry O’Brien".
She said she needed a total of £40,000, with £10,000 immediately, and the rest within a week. Mr Johnson contacted his friend, Mr Anthony Murphy, and they gave Whelan the money in cash. They had since been paid back £6,000.
Det garda Fahy said Whelan got another £10,000 from a Mr Raymond Ward which had been paid back and £3,800 from Ms Ann Stewart, who was a friend.
Ms Stewart gave Whelan a cheque she had obtained from a credit union believing it was to be used as collateral to get the money from someone else but was not expecting it to be cashed.
Det garda Fahy said Whelan was using the money to pay other people she was in debt to. There were no goods at Dublin Port and Guinness had no record of a "Gerry O’Brien" working for them. Whelan had asked somebody to pose as "Gerry O’Brien".
He said Mr Lestrange and the other people Mr O’Callaghan wrote out cheques for were not suppliers though "real people" who were owed money by Whelan for a previous clothing deal.